Every season Maryland plays one of the toughest schedules in college lacrosse and head coach John Tillman wouldn’t want it any other way.
Tillman schedules a difficult non-conference schedule against the country’s best teams for many reasons, he said, and it only helps to have four other top 12 teams in your conference as well.
Maryland has played seven teams currently in the NCAA Tournament and they have beaten six of them, including No. 3 seed Ohio State, No. 6 Johns Hopkins, No. 7 Penn State, No. 8 Albany and unseeded Yale. The Terps have two losses to teams in the field, coming against Ohio State and No. 4 seed Notre Dame.
“We had a really hard season,” Tillman said, “We are battle tested and hopefully that prepares us for our first round game and any other game in the future.”
Coming into this season, Maryland’s opponents’ winning percentage was .630 and had five teams in the NCAA Tournament last year on their schedule this year. They are also No. 2 in RPI this season, behind last year’s national champion North Carolina.
In the past two weeks alone, Maryland has defeated all three Big Ten teams currently in the tournament, which goes a long way in helping the team prepare for what they are going to see in the coming weeks.
“Hopefully we have seen enough and been in enough different scenarios this season to help us out,” Tillman said. “You hope throughout the year that your team learns to win in a lot of different ways.”
Over the past three seasons, Maryland has definitely seen enough scenarios to prepare them for a deep run in the tournament. Two trips to the national championship game and another trip to the Final Four in the past three years have provided the Terps with more than enough experience to get to the Final Four again, but they have never been able to get across the finish line and win a national championship.
“It’s taught us that it is a new season,” senior attackman Colin Heacock said. “Whatever happened in the past is in the past and we’re trying to just move forward and play for more days together.”
Heacock has been around for all three trips to the Final Four and even though this will be his last ride in the tournament, he said nothing will really change.
“It’s still the same thing,” Heacock said. “We just need to focus on the new season and take it one day at a time. Every team will be well-coached with good players so we just have to continue to improve.”
While he admitted Maryland’s two losses in the national championship game are always in the back of his mind, Heacock said he can’t think about that and the team has to fight for more days together.
Even though there is still a lot the team has to improve on, junior midfielder Connor Kelly said the team’s confidence is still very high as the No. 1 overall seed.
“We’re very confident,” Kelly said, “We believe the other teams can’t beat us, we beat ourselves. We have to focus on that because we’re a high-powered offense and a stout defense.”
The main key to Maryland’s high-powered offense is senior attackman Matt Rambo, even though Kelly leads the team with 37 goals.
Rambo was named a Tewaaraton finalist, only the second player in Maryland history to be a finalist for the award. Rambo led the Big Ten in points this year with 67, including 34 assists, which is why Kelly and Maryland’s other midfielders are able to score so many goals.
“I’m playing with one of the most talented players you can ever play with,” Kelly said. “Their talent and their success on the attack is helping me get better as a player.”
While this team is as confident as they have ever been, Tillman said they still need to get better at facing off. This has been a recurring problem all season, though the Terps did just enough to slow down Ohio State’s Big Ten Specialist of the Year Jake Withers in the conference title game.
“Faceoffs and wing play have to get better,” Tillman said. “Austin [Henningsen] really fought in the fourth quarter and the two poles did well that quarter but we have to get more possession.”
Withers won 13 of 23 faceoffs against Maryland in the Big Ten tournament final.
No. 1 Maryland opens up the NCAA Tournament Sunday in College Park at 2:30 p.m. when they take on Bryant who advanced by beating Monmouth 10-7 Wednesday night.